Friday, February 24, 2012

Legislature Works on Discover Pass

By Sarah Krueger, Public Lands Programs Manager

After over a dozen bills floated around the State Legislature related to improving the Discover Pass, Washington’s vehicle access pass for state parks and recreation lands, SHB 2373 emerges as the most promising fix. Launched in July of 2011, just a couple months after authorization from Governor Gregoire, the Discover Pass has struggled to generate the much-needed revenue for the three benefiting agencies: Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. With the budget shortfalls, these agencies have seen extensive layoffs and fears of additional park closures.

A survey of outdoor recreationists conducted by Washington Trails Association found that 69% supported the Discover Pass, but 87% felt that the one-pass-per-vehicle structure of the pass was not reasonable. In August 2011, 49 state lawmakers signed a letter opposing the one-pass-per-car rule and requested that agencies not enforce it.

SHB 2373 attempts to resolve this issue by providing space for two vehicle license plate numbers per pass (still $30), allowing pass holders to switch between cars. Further, the bill language allows agencies to establish a family pass that is fully transferable among vehicles, without placement of a license plate number to be valid, for no more than $50.

Perhaps most notable to those who enjoy winter sports, SHB 2373 would fix the discrepancy in the original Discover Pass language that exempted seasonal Sno-Park pass holders from needing the pass at Sno-Parks that overlap with State Park land, but not daily Sno-Park permit holders. As a result, winter recreationists who purchase a daily Sno-Park pass for $20 must also pay $10 for a daily Discover Pass or $30 for an annual pass, resulting in a minimum $30 day use fee per vehicle for a visit to a Sno-Park. HB 2373 fixes this problem by exempting both seasonal and daily Sno-Park permit holders from the Discover Pass.

These changes, among others offered in SHB 2373, will go far to address some of the major complaints about the Discover Pass and potentially lead to better compliance among recreationists. However, even with an increase in Discover Pass sales, our State Parks system desperately needs an infusion from the general fund to maintain even reduced operations. A proposal called “The People’s State Parks Rescue Plan” requests $4.5 million from general fund for State Parks for fiscal year 2013, the estimated cost of “social service” exemptions which allow reduced or free camping or entrance to parks for those who could not otherwise afford to purchase the Discover Pass.

You can help! SHB 2373 is on its way to the House floor for a vote. You can let your representatives know you support the changes to the Discover Pass included in SHB 2373, as well as the People’s State Parks Rescue Plan. The most effective method is a quick two-minute call to the Legislative Hotline, 1-800-562-6000. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. You can also drop an email to your representatives.

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